what is a triathlon bike

What Is A Triathlon Bike: Tri Bike Vs Road Bike 101

Did you know?

A tri or a TT bike is faster than a road bike by 360 seconds over a 40-mile time trial course.

Six minutes can be the difference between the winner and the hundredth participant in a triathlon, to say the least.

what is a triathlon bike and whether to get a triathlon-specific bike for your race or not is perhaps, one of the hot debates among triathletes? However, the internet is flooded with information, which most beginners, and sometimes even experienced athletes, find confusing.

This guide will help you know what a triathlon bike actually is and how to make a conscious decision on whether a tri bike is a worthy investment or not.

Let’s get started.

what is a triathlon bike, what kind of bike do you need for a triathlon

What Kind Of Bike Do You Need For A Triathlon

The Evolution Of Cycling In Triathlons

To understand the kind of bike you need for competing in a triathlon and what is a triathlon bike Afterall, we need to go back into history a little bit and understand the evolution of triathlon as a sport.

Back in 1978 in Hawaii, when triathlon was a sport of only a few, the cycling leg of the triathlon was a massive 112 miles. Triathlon as a sport belonged to only a small community of triathletes. Mass participation in the sport was not a reality back in the day.

Back in 1978 and even many years after that, the cycling portion of the triathlon was mostly about endurance. Speed was not the main criterion against comfort and maneuverability. 

Due to these reasons, traditional road bikes were a preferred option for triathletes as triathlon cycling was pretty similar to traditional road cycling races.   

The Present Day Triathlon

 With the rise in popularity of the sport, more and more people from different age groups began to participate in triathlons all around the world. Triathlon today has become a means of socializing for people of all age groups, rather than just a sport.

Triathlons mostly became popular with middle-aged people in the age group of 35-44 years.

This rise in popularity has led to the creation of a  variety of race distances like the super sprint, sprint, Olympic, half ironman, and ironman, with a view to accommodate everyone in the sport.

As the cycling distance became shorter and shorter, speed became a more important factor as compared to comfort and maneuverability.

The Introduction Of Triathlon Specific Bikes 

The greatest barrier to achieving speed while cycling was the aerodynamic drag. As per a study, “aerodynamic drag in cycling is a resistive force caused due to the wind which acts against the cyclist and decreases the effective power of the cyclist on the bike.” 

According to another study, about 80% of the total drag during cycling is due to the cyclist, and the remainder is due to the bike itself. Thus, the maximum effort had to go down towards optimizing the position of the cyclist to achieve a more aerodynamic position on the bike.

The road bikes which were in use were not fit as they forced the rider to assume a position on the bike which exposed more portion of the body to the wind, thus resulting in more drag.

Significant changes were made to the design of the bike, with respect to the frame geometry, seat tube angle, tire design, tube design, and handlebars. Thus came into being the triathlon bike, as we know it today.

Let us learn what these changes were and why they were done.

Why Are Triathlon Bikes Different From Road Bikes

why are triathlon bikes different from road bikes, Is triathlon bike good for road

Before we learn how a triathlon bike differs from a road bike, we should first know how good or bad a road bike actually is.

Road Bikes For Triathlons

Road races are equally enjoyed both as a sport as well as a recreational activity. Road cycling has over the years grabbed the attention of all age groups. Therefore, road bikes demand comfort more than anything else. Factors such as aerodynamics take a backseat. 

Road bikes have a seat tube angle of around 72 degrees. Seat tube angle is the angle between the seat tube and the horizontal plane. Also, most road bikes use drop bar-type handlebars.

Both these adjustments on a road bike force a cyclist to assume a position on the bike which forces drag.

Apart from this, road bikes have thin tires meant for the road, lightweight tubes, and multiple options for handles which makes the bike lightweight in handling, maneuverable, and make the overall experience of cycling comfortable.

If you are cycling in a triathlon on a hilly stretch, a road bike is usually a good option as power delivery and comfort take precedence over speed. 

Introduction To Triathlon Bikes And Time Trial Bikes 

There are specific instances when a road bike will not make the cut in a triathlon.

By design road bikes are meant for versatility and comfort. A cyclist at the end of a road biking session does not have to put on a pair of trainers and hop off on a 26-mile run course. 

Due to this very reason, triathlon demanded bikes which can really aid in reducing the drag on the cyclist by modifying the position of the cyclist relative to the wind, which was not achieved with the help of road bikes.

A time trial bike or a triathlon bike is specifically meant for this purpose. There are however some significant differences between a TT and a triathlon bike, but the underlying concept behind both these bikes is the reduction of aerodynamic drag.

A triathlon bike is used to get a cyclist into an aerodynamic position by increasing the seat tube angle and putting aero bars on the handle which brings the cyclist’s upper body lower, thus aligning the shoulders and torso in a line, which is closely parallel to the horizontal plane.(picture here ) 

A time trial bike is a UCI recommended bike which is also used by triathletes for competing in triathlons, but with the exception that triathlon bikes are non-UCI controlled and therefore more aggressive in a design, as well as they offer storage spaces on the bike.

Tri Bike Vs Road Bike: Design Parameters

Let’s look at the parameters which differentiate a road bike from a triathlon bike:

  • Seat tube angle: Seat tube angle is the angle between the seat tube and the horizontal plane. The seat tube angle for a road bike is roughly 72 degrees while for a triathlon bike, it can go till 78 degrees. This relatively steeper angle forces the rider in a more forward position.
  • Aerobars: A road bike has drop bars in most cases whereas a triathlon bike has clip-on aero bars which simply reduces the width of your shoulders which is exposed to the wind, thus reducing the drag further.
  • Frame tubes: the frames in a triathlon bike are much wider and streamlined to allow it to cut through the air whilst a road bike which has narrow and thin frames.  
should you buy a triathlon bike, are tri bikes faster than road bikes

Tri Bike Vs Road Bike : Comfort

A tri bike is less comfortable than a road bike. A tri bike is meant to be driven in an aerodynamic position for it to be fully effective. The high saddle position and aero bars, although it comes with cushions near the elbow position, can become a bit uncomfortable if the cyclist has to cycle on the bike for a long period of time. It is because of this reason that a tri bike is not as good as a road bike for long-distance cycling.

A road bike comes with the option of a variety of handlebars and is also less bulky due to thinner frames. The wider aerodynamic frame tubes and the storage boxes in a tri bike can add to the weight of a tri bike by two to three kilograms. Apart from this, the aero bars on a tri bike affect the maneuverability to a certain extent while cycling with a large group.it is, therefore, harder to ride a tri bike than a road bike.

Tri Bike Vs Road Bike : Speed

As we have already established, the majority of the drag during cycling comes from the rider rather than the bike itself. A triathlon bike,by virtue of its design, brings the rider to an aerodynamic position much more easily than a road bike. A triathlon bike is, therefore, faster than a road bike.

Drafting is not allowed in triathlons. So, every cyclist is exposed to the wind more or less to the same extent. Maneuverability is something that a tri cyclist doesn’t have to worry much about since most of the cyclists have to stay further apart from each other. Apart from the fact that a tri bike is a bit heavier than a road bike and the aero bars are less maneuver friendly than drop-type handlebars on a road bike, a tri bike is good for roads on flat and straighter routes and not so much for curved hilly roads.  

Should You Buy A Triathlon Bike 

We have already established that the benefits of a tri bike, its design, and speed outweigh a road bike for use in a triathlon. 

A triathlon bike has been made considering the fact that a triathlete has to run a good distance after getting off the bike. Tri bike design eases the strain on quadricep muscles, the muscles most utilized for running.

So, now you have enough information to make an informed choice as to which bike to go for your next triathlon.

Once again, if you prefer comfort over speed as a beginner, I will suggest you try a road bike first since you can adapt to it much more easily.

On the other hand, if you are a competitive bug and money is not an issue with you, I would suggest going for a tri bike straight away.

As a beginner, my recommendation will be to try a road bike first (you can rent it out), and after you have participated in a few triathlons and still enjoying the experience, you can switch to a tri bike for better results.

Sooner or later, you’re going to try a triathlon bike. Let’s have a look at the things you need to keep in mind before buying one.

How To Pick A Triathlon Bike: Tri Bike Checklist 

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You can go many ways on this one, you just need to know your goals.

You can either go for the best performance or the best value for your money based on your budget.

Either way, there are certain points to  be kept in mind:

  • Frame: Carbon and aluminum are the two best options available. Carbon is lighter than aluminum and obviously pricier. However, carbon can damage more easily than aluminum. You should be going for carbon if you are looking for a lighter and faster bike.
  • Components: This majorly includes aero bars and all other parts of the bike such as saddle, gear shifters, chains, derailleurs. All these parts should be checked for quality.
  • Condition of the Bike: If you are purchasing a used bike, then definitely look for any damages, worn-out parts, and condition of tires. Make sure the moving parts of the bike are in a lubricated condition, and the bike is not so old that the frame has corroded.
  • Adjustability: You would not want to go to a bike shop everytime you have to tweak your bike. Before you buy a tri bike, ask the dealer how hard or easy it is to make small adjustments on the bike, as you will be doing small little changes to your bike as you advance in your sport.
  • Fit: perhaps the most important and the most underrated. Bike fit varies with each cyclist and it is fairly important that you get your bike professionally fit at the shop before you purchase it.

What Size Of Triathlon Bike Do You Need 

The correct bike size will ensure that you get maximum power at every pedal. Riding a bike too small can result in knee pain, whereas riding a cycle with a higher frame can result in improper pedaling, thereby lesser power delivery.

To get the correct bike fit, one must consult a professional bike fitter and get his bike fit done. Only then should you shop for a tri bike.

The frame size required varies according to your height. You should refer to this checklist before you consider buying a tri bike.

Height in feetHeight in centimetersFrame size(cm)
4’10”-5’0”148-15247-48
5’0”-5’3”152-16049-50
5’3”-5’6”160-16851-53
5’6”-5’9”168-17554-55
5’9”-6’0”175-18356-58
6’0”-6’3”183-19158-60
6’3”-6’6”191-198 61-63

Conclusion 

A triathlon bike will perhaps be the most expensive and valuable purchase among all other triathlon gears. 

Regardless of which bike you get, whether it’s a road bike or a tri bike, the most important thing is that the cycling experience should be fulfilling.

I hope this article has given you enough insights so that you can now make an informed decision.

If you have any suggestions, feel free to put them in the comments below.

FAQs

Are triathlon bikes good for roads?

Apart from the fact that a tri bike is a bit heavier than a road bike and the aero bars are less maneuver friendly than drop-type handlebars on a road bike, a tri bike is good for roads on flat and straighter routes and not so much for curved hilly roads.  

Can you put normal handlebars on a triathlon bike?

Yes, you can but it will defeat the purpose of a tri bike which is to achieve maximum aerodynamic efficiency.

Is it hard to ride a tri bike?

A road bike comes with the option of a variety of handlebars and is also less bulky due to thinner frames. The wider aerodynamic frame tubes and the storage boxes in a tri bike can add to the weight of a tri bike by two to three kilograms. Apart from this, the aero bars on a tri bike affect the maneuverability to a certain extent while cycling with a large group.it is, therefore, harder to ride a tri bike than a road bike.

Also Read about :

What to wear under a triathlon wetsuit

How to start training for a triathlon

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